Art Review Archives:
Chicago Printmakers Collaborative
Chicago Printmakers Collaborative
The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative 16th Annual Small Print Show is on exhibit through February 25, 2006, with prints thronging the walls in the CPC's combination gallery and printmaking workroom. This diverse offering features subjects, styles and media in abundance: over 100 prints by thirty-two artists living or exhibiting in Chicago, including engravings, etchings, lithography and screen printing, with the exhibition's balance of works changing regularly as sales make space on the walls. From little to large, there are delights to be found here: artists new or familiar, works from the tiny woodcut to the good-sized screen print, and most of all, a survey of current work in fine art printing's many disciplines.
Why the print, in this day and age? It is an intimate art; but drawing too can be intimate. It is a personal one, both for artist and viewer, but the same may be said of pastels or paintings of similar size. What sets printmaking apart from these other disciplines is the way in which the tool inserts itself between hand and image. A drawing captures the hand's sweep in its graphite or charcoal line, in the same way in which anyone can pick up a pencil or pen and mark a piece of paper. A painting permits the freest gesture of the brush. Printmaking approaches the image-making process from an entirely different standpoint. Graver, burin, knife or scorper may be used expressively, but require both forethought and force. What the artist envisions he must literally cut or engrave into the block or plate. His ability, therefore, to execute his envisioned work requires not only imagination, but a significant amount of control and dexterous skill. This is not an art of the contemporary trends of laissez-faire, where technical mastery has been sacrificed to what is loosely termed 'freedom of expression.' Print's devotees must exercise both vision and craft. The results not only rightfully elicit the viewer's respect; they are a delight.
Printmaking is a deceptively broad term, for the making of prints actually falls into three main types, each with its own further subdivisions. Relief printing (woodcut, linocut, wood engraving) is among the oldest of the printmaking techniques; the design of the print is raised and receives the ink. Intaglio (etching, engraving, aquatint) involves the reverse, with the design holding ink through areas incised or graven. Planographic processes (lithography) are those in which the design may be drawn on a flat stone in wax crayon, which directs the ink to various areas, while diverting it from others to create the printed image. Each of the techniques is its own discipline; each permits the artist to exercise different control over the manner of line and shading, in variations from bold graphic style to the minutest subtleties of gray. The print itself is made by inking the block, plate or stone with printer's ink, laying on a sheet of paper, and applying intense pressure, either by hand or with the aid of a printing press. The resulting impression constitutes an individual print. (The CPC's web site also provides descriptions of print processes and terminology.)
Nearly all these types of printing are represented in the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative 16th Annual Small Print Show. The prints are of modest size, generally about the size of a book page for any small or large book one might name. Over 100 unframed prints cover the walls of the CPC's main workroom from midpoint nearly to the ceiling, with works by various artists placed throughout in a freely mingled blend. The intent is to present the prints in an informal atmosphere, and the approach succeeds by juxtaposing contrasting styles, by highlighting the handcrafted feel that makes prints so appealing, and in allowing the viewer to approach closely this art which so rewards close viewing. Appreciation of the paper, the slight impressions left by the pressures of the block or plate, and the subtle variations in the ink are all part of the visually lavish experience of fine art prints. To see them in a room filled with the types of tools and equipment used in their making is a further benefit, bringing one closer to the artist's presence, as well as to the fact that these prints are part of the forefront of art -- not relegated to museums, but active in the here and now. Most of all, the diversity of media, subjects and handling provide the opportunity for rich contrasts.
Flexible and responsive as it is to contemporary visions, printmaking draws on a long, full and varied history. In almost any period, an artist can find vivid sources of inspiration. In The Call of the Wild (engraving: 5 x 5 in.: 2000), Chicago printmaker Misha (Michael) Goro draws on elements of graphic style dating back to the Northern Renaissance, highly detailed, with a slight, earthy wildness to its wiry control. The one-horned boar, the cascading folds of fabric of the ample cloak of Death, and the apocalyptic imagery of the subject could easily be elements of a 16th-century Dürer print; but that the outer hairy skin of the beast strips away to reveal the mechanical diagram of a steam engine is the surrealism of a purely 20th-century nightmare. What seems wild is revealed to be an all-consuming force of mechanical greed, with Death along for the ride. Goro melds Renaissance style and engraving technique with surreal imagery, evoking a contemporary allegory with its dark roots in both worlds. The artist's skilled and deliberate command of the burin (hardened steel tool used for engraving) is evident in the many passages of tiny, intense detail.
In contrast to such minute detailing, L.A.-based artist Artemio Rodriguez offers the bold direct graphics of the linocut (linoleum cut), modern cousin of the woodcut and included among the relief printing processes. Linocut is a subtractive process, the white areas made by carving away the block. Giant Woman (linocut: 2 x 2 in.: 2003), one of the title images of the exhibition, shows the characteristic 'gouged' quality associated with woodcut and linocut (Rodriguez is accomplished in both, though it is selected linocuts which are included in this exhibition). In this work the artist uses a the irregular grooves of a linear background as a foil for the boldly stated curving forms of the woman. Her huge presence towering over the buildings is further punned on by her enormous endowment, and perhaps also, by the fact that this 'giant woman' is an image able to be covered by the palm of a hand. The degree to which Rodriguez is control of his materials is evident in Cocodrilo de petate (linocut: 5 x 5 in.: 2003). Cocodrilo and its two companion prints display an impeccable sharpness in their smoothness of line, the boundary between white and black: a smoothness impressive when one recalls that the technique by which this image was made involves carving away the nonprinting parts with a gouge or knife. There is tremendous surety of hand in these lines, as well as in the compositional patterning of the v-shaped hatches which define the scales of the beast, contrasting the smooth black of the grinning monkey and the crocodile's own shadow. The design itself has a powerful folk virility in its balance of absolutes of black and white.
A different handling of the linocut is seen in the work of Rogers Park artist Watie White, Apollo Restaurant (linocut: 12 x 9 in.: 2001). White works the block with a crude, expressive vigor, his darks and lights full of patterning and creating an image with a sense of depth. White's rendering of the title restaurant, a local haunt (now closed) nestled beneath the Argyle stop of the CTA Red Line, all but vibrates with the gouged irregularities in his choice of cuts. The image resolves into a set of arches one within the other, a distant, distorted silhouette of a bicycle, and leads the eye all the way back to the window of the restaurant, a black expanse save for its white 'Open' sign. The emotional quality of the distortion recalls that of German Expressionism.
There are few abstract works in this particular exhibition; but that the print medium can successfully render an appealing abstract vision is evident in the etchings of Elise Hughes. Hughes' Line Plate #2, "Blue Point" (etching with chine collé/monotype: 2-1/2 x 2-1/2 in.: 2005) is one of a wide variety of similar experiments involving a freely-drawn, looping line with additional elements, such as the triangular blue point of the title, incorporated. These apparently simple scratchings of line on printing plate have a dynamic rightness of composition that leads the in and around, providing balance, visual interest, and a wordless appeal. Hughes' incorporation of chine collé (thin sheets of paper applied during the printing process) and monotype (a one-time-only application of ink to the plate before printing) add elements of uniqueness to each of her abstract prints.
With the techniques available to printmakers, small prints, which can pack a lot into a modest space, can often be small indeed. About the size of a postage stamp, Chicago artist Anatole Upart's Nativity (woodcut with hand coloring: approx. 1 x 1 in.) is the smallest in the exhibition, a briefly-sketched, expressionistic rendering of stable and star, done in black ink, with touches of added coloration in blue, red and yellow.
At times, it is not so much the print that is small as the tiny details it can contain -- and at times, as Deborah Maris Lader's Too Much Stuff (etching), it is both. This 3 x 3 in. print is a whimsical assemblage of 'things', from "toothy grin" to "girl who made herself a carpet out of scraps". Reminiscent of the French 'encylopedistes' of the 18th century, who sought to catalogue elements of the world around them, each of these items includes tiny, written annotation done with the engraving tool, smaller and more precise than ever a pen could do. Several uncolored etchings of the individual panels are on exhibition, and the full series is also displayed as a pocket-sized, full-color artist's book in accordion fold format, also entitled Too Much Stuff, with twelve panels of tiny detail touching on everything from arms and legs to birds and brain waves, a whimsical, miniaturized commentary on human habits of accumulation and categorization. Ms. Lader is a Chicago printmaker, as well as the founder and Director of the CPC.
A print need not be complex to evoke the possibilities of the medium. In Cynthia King's Botanical #1 (drypoint, proof: approx. 3 x 3 in.) a simple, somewhat nervous line sketches the unadorned outline of five stems of floral blooms, capturing the essence of their botanical fragility. Printed in green ink, the slightly blurred line of the drypoint adds to the effect of a quickly captured floral impression. A similar effect is achieved in Feather by George Bodman (etching: approx. 4 in. diam.). In this image of a single shaft of feathery down, the delicate line of the burin is particularly suited to sketching the puff-like wisps of the feather filaments and the way in which they all but float.
Subjects in nature are often half-hidden; it can take a moment to spot a field mouse or a bird on the nest, or, as in Scott Kiefer's Wild Rabbit (etching/aquatint), the head of the rabbit, crouching or reclining next to a wild geranium, and half in a shadow whose placement suggests our own, as if we had come upon the wild creature unawares. Here, the artist's application of tonality lets the eye seek for a moment before resolving the final image, just as it would in perceiving the meaning of nature's patterns. Contrasting Kiefer's naturalistic image is American Lion (linocut) by Evanston artist Jeff McNear, reminiscent of Inuit art in its stylized, fluid forms and using decorative areas of pure pattern, energetic darts printed in golden-tan ink, to create the limbs and huge forepaws of the tawny cat; a similar patterning in reverse is used for the lion's face, staring with direct gaze out from the center of the image.
Through the CPC's sixteen-year history, members and students have come and gone, maintaining their ties through no longer in Chicago, or recommending to the Collaborative fellow printmakers whose work is of interest. The exhibition thus includes not only local artists, but prints by national and international participants as well. France has a long history of the caricature, so it should come as no surprise that the denizens of Parisian artist Christine Gendre-Bergère's So, Nothing series should be so expressive. Three of the four drypoint works (each 4 x 4 in.) feature a bereted middle-aged figure with a prominent nose and scanty hair, garbed in a cowl-neck sweater and shapeless coat. The drypoint's soft, slightly blurry line is used to effect in the bricks which form the background, and in the subtle differences between the dark vertical texturing of the coat, and the slightly lighter horizontal strokes of the sweater. In the first panel he looks up with a pursed lip, expression skeptical and suggestive of a whole range of inner thought. With only the bricks for background, the whole attention is focused on the figure and his comical, slightly exaggerated features. The third panel is similar; in this one he smiles, pleased apparently -- with what, we can only speculate. The panel between these two shows him playing with folded paper constructions, decked out in a folded paper hat, a second paper hat or sailboat on the railing behind him, the half-filled wineglass in his hand suggesting a state of playful intoxication. The fourth panel features a similar figure, this time a woman, her face twisted into a comical look of arrested attention as she hears -- what? Whatever it is, she is oblivious to the dangerous tilt of her coffee cup. Gendre-Bergère brings a playfulness of vision to the art of the print, showing that this traditional medium need not be wholly serious. In each of these her suggestiveness of inner thought leads one back to the work, looking again to speculate on just what her bereted Frenchman might be thinking.
Among the artists who draw on sources closer to home are Chicago artist Hiroshi Ariyama in his screenprint Passing Storm (four-color screenprint: 16-1/8 x 8 in.: 2005). Screenprint is the youngest of the printmaking arts, a method by which ink is forced through a screen or cloth, the latter treated to block out certain areas. The method permits of successive layers of flat, even color, with the design created by the selective blocking of print areas on the different screens. The image in Passing Storm is composed of four different inks, primarily a pale blue, a robin's-egg, and a darker blue. The composition in follows a long horizontal expanse of Lake Michigan, relieved by the small proturbance of one of the distant water-reclamation towers. In the upper third of the image, the darker blue invokes an anvil-shaped massing of cloud in the pale sky. Below this, subsequent screenings of the pale and robin's-egg blues receive an overlay of the darker blue for deep contrast. Together they aptly evoke the busy movement of the water, the changeable glinting and flashing of its choppy, swaying surface, as well as its fragmented reflection of the cloud mass in the sky above.
In this era of xerography and of 'digital art', when duplicability is a taken for granted as a daily fact, printmaking is a reminder of the craft, skill and long tradition of the duplicable image, as well as its application to expressive visions in the fine arts. Engraving and etching, woodcut and screenprint, with inspirations from the Renaissance to the 20th century -- the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative 16th Annual Small Print Show presents a survey of contemporary printmaking by local Chicago-area and several national and international artists, in all manner of subjects and print media. Over 100 prints by over thirty-two participating artists are on display. In addition, most featured artwork is for sale with many prints priced well under $100, an opportunity to add to one's art collection, or even affordably start one. The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative 16th Annual Small Print Show will be on exhibit through February 25, 2006. The viewer is encouraged to make a special trip.
The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, established in 1989, offers printmaking facilities, private classes, and more. Located just across the street from the Western stop on the CTA Brown Line, the CPC is easily reached via public transportation. Exhibiting artists of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative 16th Annual Small Print Show include Kim Ambriz, Hiroshi Ariyama, Jeff Atkins, Christine Gendre-Bergère, George Bodmer, Margaret Buchen, Alex Carroll, Vadim Dadiomov, Aja Engel, Lee Gatewood, Christine Gendre-Bergere, Michael Goro, Elise Hughes, Carrie Iverson, Scott Kiefer, Cynthia King, Deborah Maris Lader, Kim Laurel, Alan Lerner, Jeremy Lundquist, Ben Marcus, Nichole Maury, Jeff McNear, Bert Menco, Kristen Neveu, Duffy O'Connor, Dennis O'Malley, Mary O'Shaughnessy, Joel Rendon, Artemio Rodriguez, Jeff Sippel, Jamie Solock, Diana Sudyka, Bobby Sutton, Jerry Svoboda, Anatole Upart, and Watie White.
--Katherine R. Lieber
Editorial Note: Below are web addresses, where available, of artists discussed in the review.
Dimensions given in the review are image size.
A previous exhibition of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative Annual Small Print Show was reviewed by ArtScope.net in December 1999 (http://www.artscope.net/VAREVIEWS/chgoprint1299.shtml).